10-19th July 2017
The dirty dozen divers met at Heathrow for a few hours in the business lounge where we made full use of their facilities including the free bar and buffet. We boarded our Avianca flight to Guayaquil in Ecuador via Bogota. Not the best airline I’ve been on but certainly not the worst.
We arrived in Ecuador at 10am in the morning having had various amounts of sleep on the plane and made the short transfer to the Macaw Hostel, which to be honest is more of a simple boutique hotel rather than a dodgy hostel as the name suggests. The owners and staff were really friendly, helpful and made us feel really welcome. The owner gave some of the group a talk on making chocolate followed by a tasting which was gratefully received. The rooms were clean and the aircon worked a treat to counter the tropical heat, we all agreed that we’d rather stay here than at the Hilton around the corner.
After a quick shower and several cold beers in the courtyard we headed in to Guayaquil for the day. A taxi ride to the impressive cathedral, a walk to the river with a quick boat journey to see the sights followed by a stroll along the promenade to the restaurant at the Wyndham hotel. This is a city of few foreign visitors so you get the feeling of being far away from your everyday life. The locals were all really friendly, smiling and didn’t harass any of the group. Looking at the security measures in many of the shops there is no doubt that a more sinister side to the city exists but we certainly didn’t feel threatened at any point.
Following a great lunch we stopped for a few more drinks at one of the riverside bars before heading back to the Macaw. A few more drinks back at the hotel were followed by an early crash to bed. In the morning we had a delicious breakfast where Russell (who normally only eats potatoes) enjoyed fresh tropical fruit. We loaded up on homemade chocolate and headed back to Guayaquil airport for our final leg to the Galapagos. A quick tip if you are planning on buying duty free – buy the cigars and rum in Bogota and chocolate in Guayaquil.
We were welcomed by our dive guides at San Cristobal airport and jumped on the bus for the 5 minute journey to the marina. While waiting for the ribs (zodiacs) we were entertained by several seals playing on the rocks and being thrown off by the crashing waves.
The crew of the Galapagos Master welcomed us aboard our home from home for the week. This fabulous boat has ample space for the 16 guests and 11 crew, with a large saloon, sun deck and aft outdoor bar area makes the Galapagos Master one of the most comfortable liveaboards in the world.
After a brief lunch and check dive we made our way upstairs to sample the various rums we had imported. As the rum went down so did the daylight and we had the most spectacular sunset. Melvin made us laugh due the girlie squealing noise he made on site of a 2 inch locust on the table leg before leaping high in to the air and on to the sofa when it moved a centimetre.
The Galapagos Master raised its anchor and the group slowly made their way to their cabins, I ended up sleeping under the stars in a bid to avoid catching Maddy’s man flu.
As everyone slowly gathered on deck the next morning we witnessed a phenomenal wildlife spectacular….around the dive boat we had Blue Footed Boobies dive bombing the fish hiding under the keel. The pelicans also did a bit of diving and around half a dozen black tip sharks circled under the boat searching for their breakfast.
After breakfast we made our way to ‘Isabella’, a small uninhabited island. We followed the trail around the island where we had close encounters with dozens of land Iguanas, nesting blue footed boobies, lava lizards, sea lions and frigate birds displaying their bright red inflated chests looking for a mate. When you watch the David Attenborough documentaries you think they have been luck to witness such sites, but they are really common here and you do feel like you could be on a National Geographic wildlife programme.
As soon as we arrived back on Galapagos Master we donned our dive gear and headed for our first proper dive. As we descended in to the blue where we almost landed on top of three sleeping white tip reef sharks. The cameras came to life and didn’t stop rolling throughout the dive. It was almost impossible to decide the best direction to point the lens. Below us were colourful puffer fish, butterfly fish and other reef fish. Above our heads we were visited by a plethora of different sharks including scalloped hammerheads, Galapagos sharks and black tips. Several green turtles made their presence known and played their part for the snapping cameras. Walls of fish engulfed us and made keeping an eye on your buddy a bit of a challenge.
As the grinning faces boarded the boat we upped anchor and made the 16 hour journey North towards Darwin and Wolf, two of the worlds most famous and desirable dive sites. These two tiny islands lie by themselves around 400 miles from the main group of Galápagos Islands. In other words as about as remote as you can get.
This gave plenty of time to have a snooze, listen to some tunes and take photos of the passing scenery.
After an early and relatively booze free evening we woke up at dawn (before the bell) to watch Darwins Arch come in to view in the distance. As we moored half a dozen silky sharks appeared under the boat which were a real crowd pleaser.
It wasn’t long before we were kitting up for our first of four dives that day. Having all seen numerous documentaries the expectations were ridiculously high. The only time I have seen people this excited was at the delivery ward in Brighton Royal Infirmary.
Seconds in to our negative descent we spotted our first group of scalloped hammerheads. We locked on to the wall with our reef hooks and watched shark after shark cruise by. The biggest dilemma was which camera to choose; GoPro or Canon and which way to point them – the right with a large school of hammerheads but 20m away, or a slightly fewer number in front of us but much closer. We hooked on various places along the dive site and each time more and more sharks appeared. After 40 mins we slowly started our ascent where we met a couple of turtles who were definitely feeling like they weren’t the stars of the show. As we neared our safety stop our guide went bat s&it with his shaker. Out of the gloom came a flippin’ large dark eerie shadow. A 12m pregnant whale shark creeped passed us allowing us to fill our SD cards – WOW! On the bucket list for most of the group was to dive with a whale shark and this as about as big as they get, and everyone got an up close and personal experience with it. OMG!
2nd dive on Darwin, same drill. Negative entry down to 20m, reef hook secured and watch the hammerheads schooling around us – in front, behind, to the left, to the right, above and below. This time there seemed to be even more and the sunlight was stronger which made them even clearer too see. As we rounded the corner of the reef wall we found two whale sharks appeared about 30m apart. The largest fish in the ocean and possibly the most graceful sailed on by and posed for the cameras. On of them was another 12m jobby with the girth of a decent sized family car. It’s basically a neutrally buoyant plankton eating bus with no wheels.
Almost as soon as we were out of our wetsuits it was time to put them back on again. The term sleep, eat, dive, repeat was replaced with get excited, dive, get excited and repeat. The third dive was “off the frickin’ map”. Hundreds and hundreds of hammerheads literally surrounded us and drifted on past. They kept coming, and coming and coming. The images we had all been fixated on at home and presented by David Attenborough wasn’t a patch on this. It truly was incredible and our photos and videos could easily make National Geographic. The reputation of being the BEST dive site in the world is hands and fins above any of the other 3,000 dives I have ever done. Okay so that line might be a bit cheesy but there aren’t many other ways to express how truly brilliant this place is.
Our mate the whale shark popped by to say high on our safety stop meaning some of our air gauges might have slightly touched the red caution zone – Ockey!
Our fourth dive of the day was Darwins Arch again. This time there weren’t the numbers of hammerheads but they got much closer giving our lenses a different perspective. The scores of turtles, moray eels and the billions of fish deserve a mention in this article, if you were at any other dive site in the without the sharks this would still be a world class dive site.
Nestling in the rocks was a GoPro 3+ which I stashed in my pocket hoping to find its owner on my return to the liveaboard. At worst case scenario I found a valuable souvenir that might come in handy.
On surfacing I asked my buddies if they had lost a camera and was told that that Vivian, one of the Brazilian girls on our boat had lost it on the previous dive. After a heroes thank you and a cold ceveza for a reward the camera was returned to its grateful owner.
In the evening fresh mojitos were served on the top deck by our curious and fun crew, and we were formally introduced to them. The tunes came on and we watched the sun set in this most special of places.
After dinner some us we retired on the back deck and celebrated with some fine rum and Cuban cigars. I’ve said it about many previous liveaboard trip reports but there are few better things in the world that are better then hanging out on deck with your mates, having some good banter, a few cold ones and seeing the stars in the non-light polluted sky.
For our second day by Darwins Arch it was more of the same – hammerheads, whale sharks, walls of fish, tuna, jacks, more hammerheads, turtles, another whale shark, dolphins, more hammerheads and silky sharks (who were particularly attracted to Ockey on the safety stop). Four incredible dives later it was time to up the anchor and wave goodbye to the Arch. This has definitely lived up to and exceeded its reputation as the best dive site on the planet. Fan-flipping-tastic.
The grins on the dirty dozens faces didn’t deminish though as it was time to head to Wolf – Darwin Arch’s sister island.
Even with a wake up time of 6am nearly everyone was sat in the saloon drinking tea and coffee before the sound of the wake up bell.
First dive on Wolf was to Sharks Bay, an apt name if ever there was one. Here we found a cleaning station giving the hammerheads their morning spruce up. This allowed for plenty of photo opportunities for some good close up pictures. A few scorpion fish, some turtles and a nice easy drift made for the perfect start to the day.
After brekkie we climbed back in the ribs and made our way to the next dive site – Landslide. This was a wall dive with lots of current making for a cracking white knuckle ride. Every now and then we’d lodge ourselves in between some boulders to watch to the hundreds of hammerheads effortlessly cruise by. Another stopping point gave us the opportunity to get really close to dozens of eagle rays who were even happy to pose gracefully for a few shots. During our safety stop the Silkies managed to track down ockey again which made for a fairly interesting 3 minutes, particularly as the circles they were swimming got tighter and tighter, when another two appeared it made it tricky to keep track of them all – sky little buggers. After a bit of a bum fight to get in to the zodiacs we headed back for our Italian lunchtime feast.
As the dive had been so great and Maddy had got very dictatorial about it all we headed back to Landslide. A super fast drift passed the other group and we settled back down in between the rocks again. Much to our disbelief there must have been over 1,000 hammerheads gently drifting in front of us and some were curious enough to come and check us out. These friendly sharks are so mesmerising that before we knew it we had spent over 30 minutes crouched down watching shark after shark roll on by, then when my buddy signalled he was about to go in to deco we started our ascent. Thankfully no Silkies this time.
For our fourth dive of the day we took a vote to which dive site we were going to do. Herr Maddy lost to the will of the people and after the mini revolution we headed off towards the Secret Caves.
This large cave had plenty of wildlife inside it including playful seals, turtles and a marble ray. Our guide led us through the lava tubes which were spectacular and at one point we surfaced in the arch of the cave for a little chat. Maddy was desperate to take a photo of a Moray Eel he nearly lost the group. Note to self – don’t shine a bright torch in his eyes again!
Back on board and following a quick shower and a few cervesas we were on way back across the equator towards the main group of Galápagos Islands.
Two morning dives in the chillier 18 degree waters of Isabella island, the first didn’t offer much to see, a few turtles and a couple seals. Half of the grouped wimped out of the second dive here, this generally means you’ll get to see tonnes, and we did. About eight 3m tall Mola Mola (sun fish) patiently waiting in line to be cleaned. These are alien like creatures that come up from the deep resemble moons orbiting the large rock formations. Having never dived with sunfish before it was truly breath taking and is a moment to be cherished.
In the afternoon we had another treat in stall. We made our way to a smaller island where we got to dive with the sea iguanas. The Galapagos is the only place on earth where they exist and we got time to spend as much time as we wanted watching them munch on the carpet of green sea grass. In between iguanas we were playing ‘spot the scorpion fish’ of which there were dozens so you had to be careful where you put your hands. Every now and again a sea lion or two would swim in front of you, do a little dance and then disappear off again. There were also a few bullhead sharks pottering around, approximately 2 feet long makes them the smallest shark species on the safari. Just as it was nearly time to ascend another iguana swam down for its lunch and gave Melvin and a few others the chance to get BBC quality GoPro footage – I think he may have smuggled a banana in his wetsuit on that dive. Lee also pulled out his can of Skol as part its global tour.
Back on the Galapagos Master we set sail again for another journey across the equator. Russell decided that as his nephew was getting married today that it was only right to celebrate with his first beer of the liveaboard. In fact it was such a good idea he decided to have 14. At 17.30 the crew came up with an array of snacks and jugs of Capariniha, a South American cocktail. The music was cranked up and the conversion to started to flow. John finally made an effort with one of the Brazilian girls and Maddy who also wasn’t drinking this week, apart from the 3 days where he had been drinking wine, joined Russell in helping to celebrate with a bunch of beers and rum and cokes. After several hours Laura the Brazilian girl went off to bed alone and the rest of the group slowly disappeared off to their pits. This left John and Maddy putting the world to rights while enjoying some Sailor Jerry and a large Montecristo.
Our final two morning of dives were at Cousins Rock, a small island which is home to,a population of sea lions. In the water we bimbled upon a group of 8 spotted eagle rays, some white tip reef sharks, turtles and dozens of reef fish. Maddy spent what seemed an hour chasing a poor puffer fish trying to get it to say “cheese”. Russell who has “never missed a dive through drinking” decided that the morning dive wasn’t for him.
A quick rinse of the kit and it was time to steam towards Santa Cruz. This island is one of two where the local population live. We said goodbye to Dan and Ruby who were for off for a few days land tour extension. We headed towards a tortoise sanctuary where we all had selfies with creatures that belong in the Jurassic era, poor things were quite shy to start with but eventually they came out of their shell. Then it was off to the main town, half the group went on a cultural tour to see the deceased Lonesome George and a walk around the nature trail, the others hunted fou souvenirs and some refreshments.
We all convened that evening for a lovely meal at a local restaurant before a rather scary zodiac journey ride across the harbour in the dark back to the Galapagos Master.
The next morning we said goodbye to our guides and crew had had been so fantastic all week. After a quick wipe of the eye we checked in our bags at the airport and made the short walk back to town to while away the time. In front of the beach view cafe some sea lions were soaking up the rays and a couple of the Marine Iguanas decided to start mating.
A short hop by plane back to Guayaquil made for another great night out and left John contemplating relocation to São Paulo. Another tasty burger in Bogota signalled the end of our journey in South America.
If you ever get the chance to go to the Galapagos then do it, this is a once-in-lifetime experience that will live in your memories until the end. A massive thanks to everyone that came; Lee, John, Melvin, Maddy, Peter, Tom, Dan, Ruby, Ockey, Derek’ Russell, Phil and “the Brazilians” for making it great fun and sharing this mesmerising journey.
You can view our photos on our Facebook Page.